Saliva ban: A fresh headache for swing bowlers

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Subhayan ChakrabortyUpdated: May 20, 2020, 05:56 PM IST
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The science around outswing, inswing and reverse swing bowling are one of the most misunderstood parts of the game. Swing bowlers also live in a narrow path dividing legality and illegality. But how could saliva ban impact the life of bowlers in an already batsmen-favoured game?

Cricket is gearing up to come back to life after a prolonged break due to COVID-19 pandemic. But this time, with new rules and regulations for the safety and well-being of the players, support staff and everyone involved in a series or tournament. 

ICC’s Cricket Committee has recommended a ban on the usage of saliva for polishing or nurturing the cricket ball and the proposal will now be passed to the ICC Chief Executives' Committee in early June for approval and it is highly expected that the recommendation will get rubber-stamped for the resumption of cricket post-pandemic. The catch for bowlers? Only sweat can be used to polish the ball as the Cricket Committee thought that any further relaxation or variation of the rule might be problematic and didn’t discuss the usage of artificial wax on the ball. 

But what does saliva ban means to bowlers? 

The art and science behind swing bowling are not simple. Swing bowling is one of the most prized skills for a bowler. The game of cricket excels when a pacer troubles the batsmen with swing bowling with the new ball and it reaches a whole new level when a bowler comes back to reverse swing it with the old ball. But will the latest recommendation hamper the balance between the bat and ball? It is likely. 

James Anderson

The science around outswing, inswing and reverse swing bowling are one of the most misunderstood parts of the game. Swing bowlers also live in a narrow path dividing legality and illegality. 

Spit-polishing the cricket has been part of the legal method of shining one side of the ball in a bid to create aerodynamic asymmetry which assists in swinging the ball. But it is just one of the factors. The wrist, finger position, the direction and speed of release, the length, the point of release, everything matters and it is one of the toughest skills for a pace bowler to master. Even more so when it comes to moving the ball both ways. 

Whenever a cricket fan thinks of a pacer, apart from the speed of the ball, one element which strikes the mind is the bowlers licking the finger and then applying the saliva to one side of the ball only to rub it on the trousers to improve the polish of the ball – but this could be wiped off completely from the cricket book until a vaccine for the dreaded virus is found. 

Dale Steyn

Can sweat completely replace saliva? No.

Whether sweat can completely replace saliva is still unclear but one thing is evident that bowlers are going to face some major troubles when the ball gets old and need more liquid to polish the ball properly. 

Swing bowling is a really crucial part of cricket and there have been instances when bowlers and fielders have been caught red-handed while tampering the ball with external and banned substances.


The most recent cases are of Aussie cricketers Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. Former South African captain Faf du Plessis was twice sanctioned for ball-tampering. Former Pakistan players Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhtar were also found guilty of tampering with the ball. This indicates how important swing bowling is not only important for a pacer but for the entire team as well and a ban on saliva could further take the balance away from the bowlers. 

A possible solution for bowlers?

As of now, the bowlers and cricketers need to find out a way to shine the ball by using sweat as the World Health Organization states there have been no reports of faecal−oral transmission of the COVID-19 virus to date. Hence, the deadly virus does not spread through perspiration (sweat).

Virat Kohli

But what can bowlers do here? Nothing. With immense health risk of COVID-19, players need to get rid of their habit of polishing the ball with saliva. And before the resumption of cricket, bowlers can hope that the ICC discusses the usage of artificial wax in their future meetings to balance the game between the bat and ball.